Elizabeth Kolbert's book Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change originated in a series of articles for The New Yorker magazine, for which she received the American Association for the Advancement of Science's magazine writing award. With a clear, personable style, it's as entertaining as possible given the deeply disturbing conclusion: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." That she comes to this conclusion through no specific predictions of catastrophe - she's not making The Day After Tomorrow claims - but rather with devastatingly convincing proof that is widely accepted in the scientific community, makes an even more powerful statement.
The unabridged audiobook, read by Hope Davis (The Matador, American Splendor), is refreshingly non-alarmist in tone while still being alarming in message. Kolbert, who was a science reporter with the New York Times before becoming a staff writer at The New Yorker, presents facts calmly and rationally, acknowledging gaps in our knowledge about climate change, but also clearly demonstrating that those gaps do not challenge the basic principal that carbon dioxide levels are rising, man is a huge contributor to those levels, the climate is changing because of it, and those changes have detrimental effects to species who cannot adapt to them.
In the introduction, read by the author, she talks about Hurricane Katrina, which had struck shortly before the book was published. There had been speculation in the media about whether Katrina and Rita, another Category 5 hurricane that hit immediately afterwards, could be linked to global warming. Kolbert writes that while increased intensity of hurricanes is a symptom of climate change, no one hurricane can be blamed on the phenomenon. That even-handedness, combined with the dire underlying message, sets the tone for the book.
She gives practical examples of what global warming means, not just in abstract terms of the world we're leaving for our descendants, but changes that are affecting people, animals, and the earth today. Two scientists she interviewed were the first to present evidence of genetic changes occurring as an adaptation to global warming in a mosquito. More compelling is the social adaptation residents of Shishmaref, Alaska may be forced to make, to relocate their community because rising ocean levels threaten to engulf their island home, or people in Fairbanks, when permafrost started to melt and destroyed homes built on top of it. The greater fear is that we will reach a threshold where the gradual climate changes will give way to more sudden consequences.